I’m looking at them right now, and I’m not thinking that. They are the sign of things to come. They are the alpacas of doom.
Your Facebook feeds are about to explode.
The Instagram Effect
For about a year and a half, I’ve been seeing these photos marked “Instagram” flood my Facebook feed. Some of them interesting, most of them not. Almost all are universally poorly processed. iPhone users have been enjoying the app for a while now, and it’s only today that Android users get in on the fun.
Instagram is a camera app for your smartphone that doubles as a mobile photo-sharing service. Think the modern-day equivalent of Flickr except smarter and slicker (side note – how scary is it that there’s already a “modern-day equivalent” of an online photo sharing service? Technology moves fast, and it’s surprising Flickr didn’t come up with this first).
You create a profile and then start take pictures with your phone’s camera (or use existing photos). Once you have a photo in hand, you have the option to auto-correct color, and then apply a filter or frame before adding your witty commentary and geotagging information. With four checkboxes, you can upload to Tumblr, Twitter, Foursquare or Facebook with ease.
I can see where journalists can use this to their advantage – plug your news organization’s social media channels into the app, and you can report on four different platforms instantly – just lay off the filters and keep the photos in their original forms, of course. This is journalism, after all.
That said, there seems to be a shift in thinking about that last point – just ask Damon Winter of the New York Times, whose photo series from Afghanistan was done entirely with an iPhone and a similar app, Hipstamatic.
The Android Wrinkle
One problem you’re going to see quickly crop up is quality control. At least bad photos with an iPhone were taken with a camera of some quality (I use that term loosely, but as far as phone and point-and-shoot cameras go, the iPhone is actually decent). In AndroidLand, this isn’t always a guarantee.
The alpacas of doom were taken with my HTC Droid Incredible 2, a decent camera, but no iPhone. Many Android phones fare far worse – I had a Motorola Droid that made my 8-year-old Sony point-and-shoot look positively fantastic.
Applying filters on top of already second-rate cameras is going to produce some truly ugly creations. Some users will think it’s art. I feel bad if it’s the only photo they have of an important life event.
I illustrated earlier how this can be used for journalism. But it mostly isn’t. It’s being used to share mostly mediocre photos across the Web. In this post alone, you can see that I’m twice guilty of that.I give a lecture to students in my online class about proper use of social media. I talk about how you should think about how every tweet or post you push into the online world should have a higher purpose. Should advance the conversation. Should have a point.
What am I doing?
I was trying to come up with a highfalutin answer about why that photo of alpacas exists. Or why I decided to use the “Nashville” filter on a photo of Nashville (see what I did there?), but I don’t have one. I had a $3000 Nikon DSLR with a fancy kit of lenses in my trunk, but I reached for the phone because I wanted to share the excitement of seeing alpacas on a school bus with the world, a quick fleeting bit of fun that didn’t warrant shooting in RAW, copying the file to my computer, processing it in Lightroom, and then uploading it manually to Facebook. At that point, the moment is gone.
I guess I should amend my social media lesson: G-rated fun that reveals a bit about your personality is probably harmless. While I’m at it, I’ll go loosen my tie a little, too.
But first, let me Instagram this coffee I’m about to drink … or not.